Utility providers have increasingly found that proper tree planting, pruning and care has the potential to reduce maintenance costs and lower demand for peak energy. The elevation of tree care is reflected in the nearly 150 utilities currently recognized as Tree Line USA utilities for their commitment to effective urban forest management. Recently, a handful of providers have gone a step further by participating in the Energy-Saving Trees program.
Launched by the Arbor Day Foundation as a pilot initiative in 2011, Energy-Saving Trees gives customers of participating utilities the chance to conserve energy and reduce electricity bills by receiving a free tree to plant in their own yard.
The program makes it easy for customers to order trees and plant them in a location that will increase savings through the shading effect. Within seconds of accessing the Energy-Saving Trees website, an online tool helps customers find the most strategic location for planting and estimates the annual savings that will result from the tree. Customers are capped at a certain number of trees per household, depending on the preferences of the utility.
In exchange for the free trees, customers are expected to care for the trees and plant them in the location provided by the online tool. The 2-ft to 4-ft (0.6-m to 1.2-m) trees are delivered directly to the customer at an ideal time for planting.
The online component relies on a tool created by the Arbor Day Foundation and the Davey Institute, a division of the Davey Tree Expert Co., and uses peer-reviewed scientific research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service's i-Tree software to calculate estimated benefits. In addition to providing approximate energy savings, the tool also estimates the tree's other benefits, including cleaner air, reduced carbon-dioxide emissions and improved storm water management. Many of these benefits are felt throughout the community.
Savings Increase Over 20 years
Three providers participated in the October 2011 pilot program: Entergy, which serves 2.8 million customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas; Pepco, serving 780,000 customers in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; and Nebraska City Utilities, serving several thousand customers in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and surrounding communities. All three providers continued with the program into spring 2012.
The 17,000 trees reserved by Entergy, Pepco and Nebraska City Utilities customers will produce more than $10,000 in savings on electricity bills during the first year of tree growth. Within 20 years, accounting for mortality, the trees will yield an estimated $5 million in cumulative energy savings. The 20-year-old trees also will produce an estimated $7 million in savings as a result of improved storm water management and cleaner air.
Satisfied Utilities and Customers
Customers have signaled their satisfaction with the program both through the click of the mouse and in surveys. Entergy, for instance, gave away all 7,000 trees within just two months of the program's spring launch, with thousands of customers on the waiting list. When asked how likely they were to recommend Energy-Saving Trees to a friend or family member on a scale of 1 (not likely) to 10 (extremely likely), the average response among Entergy customers was 8.94, with similar scores from customers of Pepco and Nebraska City Utilities.
The program also gained considerable publicity, reaching nearly 10 million people in high-density markets like Houston, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Washington, D.C., as well as mentions in the Associated Press and dozens of community newspapers. With an elevated profile and two rounds of success, the Energy-Saving Trees program is already expanding into new markets for fall 2012.
Many Tree Line USA companies are taking proactive steps to inform customers about strategically planting trees for energy savings. The Energy-Saving Trees program offers a coordinated initiative to increase the utility provider's profile and offer tangible solutions to customers.
Randy Gordon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a program manager for the Arbor Day Foundation.
Editor's note: For more information about Energy-Saving Trees, contact Jared Carlson at (402) 473-2102.